[This review of Extant season 1, episode 13 contains SPOILERS.]
Coming into Extant's season finale, both the show's producers and its fans were at a disadvantage. That is, neither had a firm idea of whether this episode was supposed to serve as a lead-in - teasing a greater exploration of the mysteries surrounding this aggressive alien race next season - or if they were supposed to tie things off with a bow. Surprisingly, Extant managed to toe that line, giving us a sense of closure with a story that has come a long way from its beginnings; while the season (or series) finale felt satisfying from a narrative standpoint, emotionally there really wasn't much payoff.
I will give credit to Mickey Fisher and the Extant team - they don't shy away from intimate confrontation within their universe. John and Molly have had tense exchanges about her distance from the family while chasing down the mysteries (and the result) of her time in space. In this episode, Ethan delivers a line with the simple and deep cut that can only come from a child as he tries to understand why Molly seems to value her alien child more than him, just as she is heading back to space to save the day: "Why is it different with him?"
Molly doesn't really have a satisfying answer and it's explained to Ethan - he of the rapidly evolving robot super intelligence - in the way that you would to an actual child. It's the same way that Odin's actions are explained to Ethan, who is resistant to any negative thoughts about his new friend - a reminder that Ethan is still emotionally immature - and unwilling to trust John when he says that he has to power him down to discover what Odin implanted in the robot boy's wiring.
Eventually, John and Julie are able to coax Ethan into trusting them (somewhat easily when compared to how defiant he was a moment earlier), allowing John and his team (at great risk to their own safety) to go in and discover that the bomb inside Ethan is highly volatile and impossible to remove - a death sentence for Ethan, considering that John can't access Ethan's programming to backup and transfer his consciousness.
While this is all happening on the ground, Molly is up in space in the Seraphim station. There, she has found Shawn and bumped into the alien spore version of Katie Sparks - a confrontation that gets physical when Molly is trying to recover a module to help get the station back on the proper trajectory so that the alien spores don't make their way to earth following a crash of the station. Though Molly escapes the tussle, she is not unscathed. Her glove has fallen off and as she scans her hand, we see the blue swirl of the alien "virus" around her hand, kicking Molly's clock into hyperdrive.
In the midst of this mission - first to heal the Seraphim and then to destroy it with an explosion before departing on another ship when Plan A falls through - Extant does its best to live up to the awesome visual legacy of the space horror tales that have come before it, hitting all the targets but lacking the flair.
There's a palpable creepiness to the flickering lights of the corridors, the spore covered windows and Molly's confrontation with Katie, but these scenes ache from the same thing that has somewhat undermined all of the tension of this show when dealing with the aliens. Yes, it's off-putting that they look just like us, but it's also not very terrifying. You almost wish that, in space, we would see some kind of horrifying new form that shook us from our comfort zone, but alas.
Speaking of the alien's human form, Ethan comes in contact with it directly when, after waking up from John's exploratory procedure on him that yielded no good results, he is pushed into service after The Offspring (Molly's alien child) goes to the ISEA, pushing the facility into lockdown and away from any opportunity to assist Molly on her mission.
In Ethan, John possesses the ultimate check to The Offspring's moves; he is not a human who can be invaded by the alien being's powers. Hesitant at first, John finally agrees to put Ethan into harm's way so that he can go to the control room to help Molly, who is stranded in space by the on-board computer system ("Ben") - because of her infected status - and ready to give up after setting the detonation timers on the Seraphim.
"I think that this is my purpose." says Ethan as he disobeys his parents, turning on his warmers (which have the potential to heat his body to the point where the explosive may be triggered) - to get around the fail safe on the system that requires a human hand to activate it, and control Ben so that Molly can escape.
There's a nice contrast here between Ben and Ethan, how one computer acts solely through logic and a calculation of the odds and how the other is driven by emotion. Ethan is firm in his promise that he won't hurt The Offsping and that he understands that he is also Molly's son, but there is no gut punch. Same as when Ethan sacrifices himself to save Molly's life... for a moment before his consciousness magically returns to a variety of computer systems, negating any sense of loss or consequence for Molly's heroism or her earlier and less noble actions.
If this show does make it to a second season, we'll surely explore the hows and whys of Ethan's evolution, because clearly this is not a mere robot. We're also sure to see a continuation of the alien threat since The Offspring survived the explosion and was last seen walking along the street before a family stopped to give him a ride.
All of these things are fine jumping off points, but the hope is that Molly will be somehow altered by her almost loss of Ethan and her near death experience (if next season happens). A version of Molly that is a little more cautious, a little more dedicated to her current family, after having rejected the fantasy of the family with the departed Marcus.
If that isn't the Molly that we see next season, then it will diminish the value of this journey. If we never see these characters again, though, we may want to look back on this as an overall positive experience thanks, in large part, to great performances by Goran Visnjic, Halle Berry and the supporting cast. They clearly elevated material that, at times, felt as if it was being stretched beyond its limit. With that said, though, this show juked and spun away from our expectations many times, but never lost its balance - and that's an accomplishment, especially when you consider how much ground was covered.
Though it doesn't look like it, Extant deserves to be called a television epic after starting as what has been commonly referred to as a "Rosemary's Baby in space" scenario before becoming a fugitive drama, a conspiracy filled tale of intrigue, a family drama with notes on grief and the walls that we put up, and a space horror tale - all while also telling us a story about artificiality, the hunt for everlasting life and what a soul really is. Again, I don't feel wowed by this finale, but after going through all of that, I still don't feel dizzy and I want to go on this ride again. So I suppose, "Mission Accomplished," Extant.
Stay tuned to Screen Rant to find out if Extant gets renewed.